Kamado "Try It Yourself" Coconut Briquettes
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Quick Stats


Date Of Review: December, 2007
Purchased From: Kamado
Date Purchased: December, 2007
Price: $14.95 (includes shipping)
Weight: 11-12 pounds
Burn Time:
Ash Production:
Type of Wood: Coconut shell
Strange Material?: None
Scrap Lumber Pieces?: None
Smell: Pleasant coconut charcoal smell
Country of Origin: Unknown


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Commentary

Update (08/16/09): Kamado no longer sells this extruded coconut charcoal. They are now selling coconut charcoal from another supplier. We recently obtained two boxes of the current charcoal and you can read the review by clicking here.

Introduction
It has only been since August 5, 2007 that we published our review of Kamado's Indonesian coconut charcoal briquettes, so why another review so soon? First, it appears that the coconut briquettes sold by Kamado have changed. Kamado has made several statements on their website indicating that the charcoal has changed. On August 10, just five days after our review, they posted:

"In furtherance of my goal of “making what we sell”, we are now extruding and packaging our own Coconut and Hardwood Extruded briquettes."
So, they now claim to be manufacturing their own charcoal. But does this mean there has been a change in the charcoal itself? On October 19, 2007 they posted:
"We are now shipping the best Extruded Coconut we have ever made and the best in the world, by the way. We are using the same formula as the original Philippine variety."
This indicates that their current charcoal is indeed using a new different formula, in fact the same formula as the excellent Philippine extruded coconut charcoal briquettes that we reviewed in January 2004. And then there was this posted on November 2, 2007:
"...if your are (sic) concerned about the quality and types of charcoal I would suggest purchasing a sample box to determine for your self. (sic) In the past we did not do the final charcoal production and packaging and now we are and feel comfortable about stating the quality and product is the same as the sample."
Kamado is now selling 11-12 pound samples with free shipping for $15 so that customers can see for themselves what Kamado coconut charcoal briquettes are like. While we feel our review of the 2007 Indonesian charcoal was fair, objective and one of the most thorough reviews we have ever done, we agree that anyone who feels the need should have the opportunity to see for themselves what the current Kamado coconut charcoal briquettes are like. Thus we decided to obtain some and see for ourselves, just like you the reader would do. And if the charcoal has indeed changed, of course a new review is needed to keep you up to date. As you will see later in the review, this charcoal is indeed different than the 2007 Indonesian coconut charcoal briquettes.

This leads us to the second reason for this update to our review. Kamado is selling these samples on eBay. Click here to see a screen capture of the eBay auction as it appeared on the eBay web site on December 12, 2007. As you can see, the ad contains photos of at least two different types of charcoal! There are three-inch long pieces in some of the photos, while other photographs show the 1.5-inch ribbed extrusions which are almost certainly the original and excellent Philippine charcoal. So which charcoal do you get when you order a sample to try it yourself? Again, we decided to obtain some of these samples to see for ourselves. (Hint, you get the three-inch pieces.)

And finally, on December 20, 2007, Kamado posted this on their discussion forum, to clarify the terms of their satisfaction guarantee:

"Extept (sic) for 3 or 4 briquettes that can be used for testing purposes, remaiing (sic) briquettes must be returned."
Well, we find it hard to believe that your average user can really try this charcoal for themselves by using only 3 or 4 briquettes. We would have thought that to really "try it yourself", you would need to cook using the charcoal, something you can't do with 3 or 4 briquettes. So we wanted to offer you the chance to see what testing of an entire box would reveal. You can't test how hot this charcoal can get your cooker, for example, with 3 or 4 briquettes. You can't see for yourself how long it will burn in your cooker with only 3 or 4 briquettes. You can't see what the flavor of your food will be like with only 3 or 4 briquettes. So, we have done the testing for you!


A Little History
Before we get into this review, it might help readers to understand a little history of Kamado coconut charcoal briquettes. Kamado has, up until now, sold 3 different types of coconut charcoal briquettes. While Kamado claims to have obtained raw materials from different sources and charcoal product from different suppliers, nevertheless, the coconut charcoal briquettes sold by Kamado fall into 3 types.

The first type was sold intermittently in the 2003-2005 time frame and was labeled product of the Philippines. In 2006, they sold a second type of coconut charcoal briquettes which was labeled product of Thailand. Finally, in 2007 they sold a third type of coconut charcoal briquettes labeled product of Indonesia. It appears that each time the product changed, it took a turn for the worse. The Philippine charcoal was a great product (we gave it our highest rating), low on ash, long on burntime, hard durable briquettes that survived shipping abuse. The Thailand charcoal produced large volumes of ash, and much of it arrived at customers' doorsteps damp, moldy and crumbled. Finally, the Indonesian charcoal produced the largest volume of ash we had ever tested, burned for a very short time, and the briquettes were fragile and subject to shipping damage.

Now, it appears that Kamado is selling yet another batch of coconut charcoal briquettes. So, let's take a look at it and see how it does.


The Charcoal -- Packaging, Condition, Appearance
This new charcoal was sent via US Postal Service in one of their "flat rate" boxes. As you can see from the photos below, the two boxes arrived in pretty good condition. Also below you can see the appearance of the charcoal in the first box as we opened it.

kamado Coconut Charcoal Briquettes
The boxes upon arrival
kamado Coconut Charcoal Briquettes
Box just after opening
kamado Coconut Charcoal Briquettes
Broken briquettes still appear to be a problem


Upon physical inspection of the briquettes themselves, we can verify that this is not simply the exact same Indonesian charcoal which we reviewed in August of 2007. Those briquettes had a hole down the center which was about 0.4 inches in diameter while these briquettes have a hole 0.3 inches in diameter. We don't know if this charcoal is from the same manufacturer using different equipment, but clearly the briquettes at the very least have come from a different batch.

The eBay auction advertises that the box will contain 11-12 pounds of charcoal. We weighed the charcoal in the box and then sorted it into whole pieces, broken pieces, and fines which were unusable. Here's the results:

Whole Pieces 9.4 pounds 87.0%
Broken Pieces 1.2 pounds 11.1%
Powder/Chips 0.2 pounds 1.9%



Total 10.8 pounds
kamado Coconut Charcoal Briquettes
The contents of the box sorted into whole pieces, broken pieces and fines


The 1.9% fines is an improvement over the box of charcoal we reviewed in August, 2007. However, the eBay auction advertises that the box will contain "No fines, or tiny pieces and dust...." It also states that the contents will be "100% usable." Also, as you can see, the box was 0.2 pounds less than the 11-12 pounds advertised. Perhaps Kamado should modify their ad to indicate 10-11 pounds and "almost no fines." Also, as we have seen before, the amount of "fines" you end up with is entirely dependant on the treatment your charcoal gets in shipping due to the fragility of the charcoal. And we can only chuckle about the claim on the eBay auction that the charcoal is "Clean handling. You can pick up a piece of Kamado coconut shell charcoal in your hand and put it in your grill and there will be almost no trace in your hand." We can assure you that handling this charcoal will indeed leave a mess on your hands.

What about the physical appearance of the briquettes? Many of the Indonesian briquettes from August, 2007 were crooked, cracked, mis-shapen, bringing into question whether or not the briquettes were actually extruded. These briquettes are no better, as you can see in the photos below:

kamado Coconut Charcoal Briquettes
Many of the briquettes are crooked and misshapen
kamado Coconut Charcoal Briquettes
The end view reveals that the holes are not round or uniform and the briquettes are often squashed
kamado Coconut Charcoal Briquettes
Cracks in the sides and the rough surface also call into question whether or not this charcoal is extruded

This again calls into question whether these briquettes are actually extruded or if they are just being molded.

Calculating Density of a Hexagonal Cylinder

The density of any solid is given by mass divided by volume. We can weigh the solid. The volume of a hexagonal cylinder is found by multiplying the area of the cross-section by the height of the cylinder. It can be shown that the area of a hexagon is equal to 3/2 times the square root of 3 times S squared, where S is the length of one side of the hexagon. So the volume is given by 2.598 x S**2 x H, where H is the height of the cylinder.

To then calculate the volume of a hexagonal cylinder with a hole down the middle, you subtract the volume of the hole which is given by the area of the circle times the height of the solid, or 3.14 x R**2 x H, where R is the radius of the hole.

Next, what about the fragility of this charcoal? In our August 5, 2007 review, we observed that you can easily break the Indonesian briquettes in half with your bare hands. Our improvised "hammer" test shattered a briquette with almost no effort. We can report that this new charcoal is no different. The briquettes failed the "hammer" test and they are easily broken in half with bare hands. They can, with a little more effort, be broken into quarters, just like the briquettes reviewed in August of 2007. By contrast, the Phillipine extruded coconut charcoal could not be broken in half with bare hands, and it took significant force to break one with a hammer.

We also measured and compared the density of the Indonesian and Philippine charcoal briquettes in our August 5, 2007 review. We found that the Indonesian charcoal was about 16% less dense than the original Philippine charcoal. We calculated that the density of this new charcoal is exactly the same as that of the Indonesian charcoal. Thus this new charcoal is also 16% less dense than the Philippine charcoal. (To calculate the density of the briquettes, you merely need to calculate the volume of a hexagonal cylinder with a hole down the center, which we explain in the table to the right. Then you divide by the weight of the briquette and you have the density.)

Finally, we found one other interesting briquette in the box, as you can see below. Essentially what we found was a chip of wood that had found its way into the briquette. It was sticking out slightly less than we show in the photograph, but it really makes you wonder how a chip of wood could have survived extrusion under heat and pressure. This just adds even more weight to the argument that these briquettes are molded, not extruded. More on this later.

kamado Coconut Charcoal Briquettes
A wood chip that was apparently molded into the one of the briquettes


Burntime
The eBay auction advertises "Burns 50% longer" and "compared to typical store-bought briquettes or even gourmet lump charcoals." It also claims "Since your Kamado Coconut Briquettes will be burning much hotter, fewer ashes, no fines, and approximately twice as long you will actually be purchasing 20 lbs. or more useable charcoal for the price of this 11 pound sample box." In actuality, the Indonesian charcoal burned for a relatively short length of time with only four brands producing shorter burn times. However, when we burned this new charcoal, we were stunned to find it burned for a shorter length of time than any other charcoal we have ever tested. In fact, it burned nearly 20% shorter than the previous low burn time. Clearly, this new charcoal doesn't burn 50% longer than anything we have ever tested. If you use the same reasoning as that found in the eBay ad, your 11 pounds of sample charcoal isn't like getting 20 pounds for the price of 11, but rather more like getting 5 pounds for the price of 11.

06/28/08 UPDATE: We recently added a new calculation to our database of statistics which we keep on all the charcoals that we have reviewed. This new statistic is Price Per Hour of Burn Time. We thought it appropriate in light of Kamado's claim that their charcoal is like getting 20 pounds for the price of 11. This charcoal costs $0.55 per hour to burn, if of course you exclude shipping charges. That makes it the 6th most expensive charcoal out of the 92 we have tested so far. What's first? Kamado's Thailand coconut briquettes at $0.67. Most quality charcoals cost less than $0.30 an hour to burn, so you can see that this claim (20 pounds for the price of 11) is simply not true.


Ash Production
Ash production was the biggest shock coming out of our August 5, 2007 review. The Indonesian Kamado coconut charcoal briquettes produced more ash than any other charcoal we had ever tested. This included even Kingsford briquettes! What is even more shocking is that this is from a charcoal that was advertised as "ashless" on the box. According to their latest eBay auction, Kamado now claims "Almost no ash residue." Thus they have backed off the ashless claim. So, how then does the new Kamado coconut charcoal compare to the Indonesian coconut charcoal with regards to ash production? The results of our testing showed that this new charcoal produces 11% more ash per pound of charcoal than even the Indonesian charcoal that we reviewed in August of 2007!

This ash production problem becomes even more apparent when you look at the volume of ash produced per hour of burntime. Because of the double whammy of high ash production and low burn time, this new charcoal produces about 240% more ash per hour than the previous worst charcoal, save for the Indonesian coconut briquettes. The ash production is truly staggering. The following photo shows the enormous amount of ash produced by only 6 of these new charcoal briquettes:

kamado Coconut Charcoal Briquettes
The ash produced by only 6 briquettes! The foil pan is 9" x 5.5" x 1.5".

Now try to imagine the quantity of ash that would be produced by a cooker filled with these briquettes for an overnight cook. Truly staggering. We were barely able to keep our large Big Green Egg cooker going for an overnight cook with the 2007 Indonesian charcoal before the ash completely blocked the airflow. With this charcoal producing roughly 25% more ash than the 2007 Indonesian charcoal, we feel it will not be usable for long overnight cooks.

Before we leave the topic of ash production we'd like to look at the subject of ash content of this charcoal in a little more detail. There have been statements made on the Kamado discussion board that the ash content depends on how the raw material was carbonized, implying that the high ash production of this latest type of Kamado extruded coconut briquettes is due to poor manufacturing, i.e., it is just a "bad batch". To quote, "The ashiness of the charcoal is strictly a product of how the coconut shells were burned down." However, this is not actually true. Ash is mineral matter, such as clay, silica and calcium and magnesium oxides, both present in the original raw material (wood or coconut shell) and picked up as contamination from the earth during processing. At the time that the wood is cut or the coconut shell is harvested, they contain a certain amount of ash. This original amount of ash will be left after combustion whether you burn the wood/coconut shell down to ash, or convert the wood/coconut shell to charcoal and then burn the charcoal down to ash. If the raw material is not properly carbonized, then the finished product will contain more of the volatile organic compounds that are normally driven off in the carbonization process. However, the final product will still contain exactly the same amount of ash as if the raw material had been properly carbonized. In other words, carbonization does not remove ash from the wood or the coconut shells during the process of converting it to charcoal. Hence, the ash content of charcoal has very little to do with the process used to make the charcoal unless you contaminate the source material or deliberately add some other materials to it.

So, what is the ash content of this latest Kamado extruded coconut charcoal? It can easily be determined by heating a weighed sample to red heat in the presence of air to burn away all combustible matter. The residue left behind is the ash. You then merely calculate what percentage the weight of the ash is of the weight of the original sample. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations report on charcoal indicates that pure coconut charcoal contains about 1.5% ash. A survey of several coconut charcoal manufacturers reveals claims of ash content in the 1.8-5.0% range for their products. Our original tests indicated that the ash content of the Indonesian Kamado coconut charcoal briquettes was 18.2%. This is not surprising in view of the tremendous amount of ash it produces. The ash content of the original Philippine extruded coconut charcoal sold by Kamado was about 3.0%. Again, this is not surprising in view of the very small amount of ash produced by the Philippine charcoal.

So, to calculate the ash content of this new charcoal, first we heated our charcoal sample in an oven for 2.5 hours to drive off the moisture. We checked the weight of the sample periodically and stopped when the change in weight was only 3 grams in 30 minutes. We then burned the charcoal inside of a large cooker with plenty of airflow and allowed the sample to burn completely to ash. We then weighed the remaining ash and calculated that the ash content of the original sample was a staggering 26.2%. So to summarize:

2003 Philippine Extruded Coconut 3.0%
2007 Indonesian Coconut Briquettes 18.2%
2007 Try It Yourself Coconut Briquettes 26.2%

So why this incredible amount of ash? We can only speculate, but what makes the most sense is that these briquettes are not extruded, but rather molded. Molded briquettes need large quantities of binder to hold them together. It would seem that the addition of this binder to the raw coconut material is responsible for all the ash. But whatever the reason, over one quarter of this new charcoal is ash!

(One final note. We didn't want to delay this review by repeating all of the side by side comparisons of ash that we did in our review of the 2007 Indonesian coconut briquettes. If you would like to see those side by side comparisons between the 2007 Indonesian coconut briquettes, the 2003 Philippine charcoal and Royal Oak lump charcoal, click here. You will be taken to the portion of the 2007 Indonesian review which disproved the many claims that the 2007 Indonesian charcoal didn't produce any more ash than other charcoals. When you view those side by side photographs, just imagine this charcoal producing roughly 25% more ash than the 2007 Indonesian briquettes.)


Maximum Temperature
The eBay auction advertises "Burns 50% hotter" and "compared to typical store-bought briquettes or even gourmet lump charcoals." This claim could be interpreted in at least two different ways. First, you might be talking about the temperature that you can measure in the cooking area of your charcoal cooker. Essentially this is what we measure in our maximum temperature test that we perform for all our charcoal reviews. Or, you might be talking about the actual temperature of combustion as measured right down in the burning charcoal.

For the 2007 Indonesian Kamado coconut charcoal, we measured 990 degrees with a Tel-Tru thermometer inserted into the dome of a medium Big Green Egg ceramic charcoal cooker. With this new charcoal, we were only able to get 860 degrees. We have run this test on dozens of brands of lump and extruded coconut charcoals, and 860 degrees only ranks as "average" on the range of temperatures that we have measured. Obviously, this is not "50% hotter" than other brands of charcoal. Also, this new Kamado coconut charcoal does not burn "50% hotter" than the lowest maximums we have ever measured.

On the other hand, if you interpret this statement to mean that the temperature of combustion measured right down in the burning charcoal is "50% hotter" than other charcoals, then let's see what that brings. Although it is hard to imagine a charcoal that can't produce top temperatures in the cooking chamber could be actually burning at a higher temperature than other charcoals, we have the ability so let's look. Whereas this is not a test that we routinely run, we have run it against Kingsford briquettes and Royal Oak American hardwood charcoal. If there is any brand of charcoal that meets the definition of "typical store-bought briquettes", it is Kingsford, and Royal Oak American hardwood charcoal is a very good brand of lump charcoal.

So, how did we measure the temperature of burning charcoal down in the actual region of combustion? We simply piled up some charcoal in our medium Big Green Egg ceramic charcoal cooker and then used a Thermoworks WD-08467-64 High Temperature Ceramic Fiber Insulated Probe inserted into the burning charcoal in the heart of the fire. This probe is capable of measuring temperatures up to 2500 degrees F. Here are the results we obtained:

Royal Oak American hardwood lump charcoal 2041 degrees
Kingsford standard charcoal briquettes 1912 degrees
Kamado extruded coconut charcoal briquettes 1809 degrees

So once again, Kamado coconut charcoal does not burn "50% hotter" than other charcoals, whichever definition of "burns hotter" you wish to use.

One additional observation we made in our August 5, 2007 review is that the Indonesian charcoal became very fragile after burning. In fact, after our maximum temperature test, we allowed the charcoal to cool and then we tried to stir the charcoal to knock the ash off for the next burn. What we found was that most of the charcoal briquettes crumbled to powder and thus were unusable. This new charcoal appears not to suffer from this fault. After our maximum temperature test was run and the charcoal cooled, we were able to stir it up and knock off the ash without destroying all the remaining charcoal. A small consolation to offset the poor burntime, perhaps.


Smoke, Odor and Food Flavor
The eBay auction claims that this charcoal "Burns virtually smokeless and completely odorless. The smokeless claim is again subject to interpretation. As we have observed many times before, all lump charcoal smokes while it is igniting and then burns "virtually smokeless" once it is completely ignited. Kamado has often referred to a photograph they took of one of their briquettes burning on an electric stove burner with no smoke. We reproduced this photo with a Kamado extruded coconut briquette, a Kingsford briquette and a piece of Royal Oak lump charcoal and we also found no smoke. So, this is not unique to Kamado extruded coconut charcoal:

kamado Coconut Charcoal Briquettes
A Kingsford briquette, a lump of Royal Oak and a Philippine briquette all burning smokeless

Completely odorless? Not all all. Burning coconut charcoal produces a relatively strong, sweet and pleasant odor until, like most charcoal, it is completely ignited and burning hot. Then, like all most charcoal, there is less odor. During our test burn to determine the burn time of this charcoal, we could smell the charcoal burning during the entire burn. But what is the significance of this? It relates to their next claim regarding flavor.

The eBay auction claims that this charcoal "Imparts no taste or flavor of its own, so when you add smoke woods, the only taste you will get is what you choose to add. For the first time, you will be in full control of how your food tastes." Perhaps this is one of the more important characteristics of a charcoal: How does it affect the flavor of the food? We did a side-by-side blind test comparing Kamado coconut charcoal with Royal Oak lump charcoal made from American hardwoods. We grilled chicken tenders and the submitted them to our tester for comparison. Both the tester and we agreed that the Kamado extruded coconut charcoal imparted a stronger flavor to the chicken than the Royal Oak charcoal did. The flavor was great and we liked it, but the claim that it "imparts no taste or flavor of its own" is simply not true.


Additives and/or Fillers
The eBay auction claims that this charcoal "Contains no additives, fillers, or other foreign substances." In light of the incredible ash content of this charcoal, this claim simply cannot be true. Pure coconut charcoal should have an ash content in the very low single digits, as we have already observed. This charcoal has an ash content of 26.2%. This and the appearance of the charcoal leads us to believe it is not extruded, but is actually molded, requiring large amounts of some type of binder. The only other explanation would be some sort of massive contamination of the raw carbonized charcoal, but contamination doesn't account for the cracked, ill-formed, misshapen briquettes. We strongly suspect the charcoal is molded with a large quantity of binder.

06/11/08
An Update Regarding Coconut Charcoal And Variations in Ash Production And Burn Time:

We recently obtained a new bit of information regarding the manufacturing of coconut charcoal briquettes which we thought readers might find interesting. We have reviewed the four different types of coconut charcoal briquettes sold by Kamado, documenting the wide variation in ash production and burn times between the four types. In the three reviews of the coconut briquettes sold by Kamado since they stopped selling the original Philippine charcoal, we observed a dramatic increase in ash and decrease in burn time compared to the original Philippine charcoal. We speculated that the reason for the high ash content/low burn time was simply due to the briquettes being molded vs. extruded. We had been provided information by a distributor in Indonesia indicating that the molding process required more binder than the extruding process and thus more ash was the result. While we don't have confirmation that these later briquettes were actually molded or extruded, we have since received information about a common practice in the coconut charcoal industry in Southeast Asia. A coconut charcoal manufacturer recently explained that if the customer wants a lower priced product, manufacturers will simply add filler to the coconut charcoal before molding/extruding. This filler, of course, replaces the carbon content of the carbonized coconut shells and results in a cheaper product with higher ash content and reduced burn times. See the following table that contains results of our testing from the four reviews. More ash equals less burn time:

2003 Philippine Extruded Coconut 3.0%14.7 hours
2007 Indonesian Coconut Briquettes 18.2%10.0 hours
2007 Try It Yourself Coconut Briquettes 26.2%6.2 hours
2006 Thailand Coconut Briquettes 35.7%4.7 hours

This explains the wide variation in ash production and burn times between the different types of coconut briquettes that Kamado has sold. The different manufacturers who have been supplying Kamado with coconut briquettes have apparently been adding various amounts of filler to their products, despite Kamado's claims that their coconut briquettes contain no filler. It also explains how Kamado was able to reduce the price of their charcoal from $11.99 in 2003 for the high-quality Philippine charcoal to $7.99 in 2008 for their current low-quality charcoal.


Conclusion
As we stated at the beginning of this review, in view of this steady decline in the quality of Kamado coconut charcoal briquettes and Kamado's recent announcements about changing the product, we were eager to see what this new charcoal was like. We were hoping to see some improvement. The claim that they were using the same formulation as the Philippine charcoal produced hope for a return to the excellent properties of that charcoal. Unfortunately, it appears that the decline in quality of Kamado coconut charcoal briquettes has only continued:

  • Burntime: Worst ever and by a considerable margin.
  • Ash Production: Worst ever and by a considerable margin. Truly staggering amounts of ash.
  • Maximum Temperature: Only average despite "50% hotter" claims.
So, what rating for the Kamado "Try It Yourself" coconut charcoal briquettes? The quality of this latest charcoal is probably the worst we have ever seen. In light of the problems we have noted and the difficulty in obtaining this charcoal in any quantity (you must either by it by the pallet or visit the Kamado forum and try to organize a shared pallet), it gets our lowest rating, Not Recommended.

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Other Information

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Unusual or Unique Statements

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Statements From The Bag

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Lighting Instructions

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Photos Of Contents

See Commentary.


Other Photos

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Photo of UPC Code

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Contact Information

J5 Designs / Kamado Co.
9711 S. Eastern
Suite H-96
Las Vegas, NV 89183
877-257-6871

www.kamado.com


About This Review

If you are unfamiliar with our testing procedures, you may wish to read How We Review Lump Charcoal before reading this review. Also, you can read How We Score Lump Charcoal to learn about our scoring system.

Prices listed in our reviews are current as of the date of the review. We do not attempt to keep these prices current.

The conclusions and final rating given any charcoal are based upon the opinion of the author. We recommend that you use our rating only as a guide. You should read the entire review and decide what is important to you in making any buying decision.

Performance ratings are designated with stars, 1 star being the worst and 5 stars being the best:

= Performance is Far Below Average
= Performance is Below Average
= Performance is Average
= Performance is Above Average
= Performance is Far Above Average

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